So here begins our little exposition of Beale’s book, A New Testament Biblical Theology. I must warn you the first few paragraphs simply list Beale’s own distinctives. To be fair, I wanted to represent his work in the way he would represent it. Thus, I have listed these below. But if you can slice through these hedges, you will be richly rewarded with a garden full of the Bible’s storyline and an already-not yet interpretation of the Bible. See this post to see why this matters.
Having laid down his presuppositional playing cards, Beale explains why his writing is unique: First, while it’s a New Testament theology is begins in the Old Testament (5-6). Second, he traces the Old Testament storyline into the NT (6). Third, he elaborates on these main plotline categories in his book (6). Fourth, he pays attention to how the OT storyline developed in Judaism (8). Fifth, it focuses on the unity rather than the diversity of Scripture (9).
Sixth, he provides a concise definition of Biblical Theology: “Biblical Theology, rightly defined, is nothing else than the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity” (9). While this might be concise, its meaning is obfuscated to all but the initiated into the order of Biblical Theology. Try imagining an apple seed (Beale’s example in a recent audio interview from 9marks). Now this apple grows throughout its life (this is the growth of the Old Testament storyline. At a certain point of time, its flowers blossom (this is the first coming of Christ). Yet, there are still no apples. However, they will eventually grow and hang from the tree (this is consummation). That’s biblical theology: a progression of the Bible’s story from seed, to blossom and finally to fruition.
His seventh distinctive is that he copies two Germans (Hans Hübner and Peter Stuhlmacher, 10). Eighth, instead of going corpus by corpus (i.e. Paul, then John, etc.), he follows the Bible’s storyline through the Bible topically (14).
Ninth, and finally, “I categorize my biblical-theological approach to be canonical, genetic-progressive (or organically developmental, as a flower develops from a seen and bud), exegetical, and intertextual” (15).
THE SPECIFIC CONTEXT OF THIS BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
Don’t worry. The rest of this post will be highly selective, simply pointing out some key points in Beale’s introduction. Beale explains the Bible’s story and why everyone must ascribe to an already-not yet framework of the Scripture.
First, Beale explains what the Bible’s storyline is:
The OT storyline that I posit as the basis for the NT storyline is this: The Old Testament is the story of God, who progressively reestablishes his new creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful unto his glory. (16)
Second, and key to his method, Beale explains that the New Testament transforms the Old Testament:
The NT transformation of the storyline of the OT that I propose is this: Jesus’s life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-not yet new-creational reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign and resulting in judgment for the unbelieving, unto the triune God’s glory. (16)
In this way, the Goal of the NT’s storyline is God’s glory (16). To see this goal, he argues, one must see how the biblical authors understand the “end times” (16). Beale then explains that through the death and resurrection of Jesus the end times have come (17–18). We are presently in the end times but only in an already-not yet state. He claims the apostles viewed their salvation this way. Thus, he concludes, “Every aspect of their salvation was to be conceived of as eschatological in nature” (18).
Beale notes that this does not mean that age old Christian doctrine should be seen as as changed but “as radically enriched by seeing them through end-time lenses” (18). We must know, he says, that the resurrection began the new creation in which we now live and exist (an Observation Vos made years ago).
He sums up: “Jesus’s life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-not yet new-creational reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign and resulting in judgment for unbelieving, unto the triune God’s glory. (23).
For Beale, this is not redefining eschatology but simply refining it (23). Not to be a nag, but I am pretty sure that saying eschatology means Jesus launched the fulfillment of the already-not yet kingdom is a redefinition. But hey, who am I say to say?
Well, this our little introduction to A New Testament Biblical Theology, tune in next time when Beale traces the Biblical-Theological story through Scripture.